I make no secret of the fact I homeschool my children, actually, I am somewhat proud of it. My kids started their homeschool careers in the early spring of 2015. However, before I began homeschooling I worked at a public elementary school (grades K-5) as a paraprofessional with special needs kids. I was employed there for nearly two school years. It is one of the most stressful, yet also rewarding, jobs I have ever had and I observed many positive things during my employment. Not everything I saw pleased me, however. During my time there I noticed several trends that I believe are quite negative in nature.
As I mentioned, I worked with special needs kids. This often meant that I spent time with them in the classroom. One of my tasks was to help keep the child I was with attentive and content. Unfortunately, many of my students had significant behavioral issues which led to classroom disruptions. They frequently yelled or otherwise lashed out during classes and needed to be reprimanded. Since we were in the classroom, it was the teacher’s job to be the main force of authority. I would give them room to reprimand the student as they saw fit and I would only step in when things got out of hand. Sadly, the inappropriate displays from special needs students often take time away from the other kids. The teachers are also more likely to lose patience with everyone when they have an undisciplined student to deal with. Some special needs children even get violent in the classroom, becoming a physical danger to all around them. There were more than a few times when I was called to a classroom to deal with a student throwing chairs or brandishing a yardstick. Whenever this took place I would have the classroom emptied so that I could talk down the student without concern for the safety of his/her classmates. However, since I was only called after the behavior had started there were times when a student had been struck or otherwise hurt before I could arrive.
The typical parent might think these disruptions and physical assaults would cause the offending student to be moved to a different school, one that specialized in handling these sorts of problems. That did happen, but it was quite rare. I have known special needs students who had been spitting on, hitting, kicking, and swearing at other students for years. Some of these kids even destroyed property that belonged to their fellow students. I would estimate that roughly 90-95% of the time, after having lashed out in such a violent way, the offending student was back in that same classroom within an hour. Granted, the student would have to go through a de-escalation process and apologize to whomever they offended or hurt, but the feelings of remorse rarely seemed genuine. Never was an offending student moved to a different classroom, even if they had consistently made a target of a specific student in the classroom they were already in. Instead, the administrator would offer to move the student that had been assaulted, but only if parents complained enough. So, not only would the targeted student have to go through being the victim of malicious attacks and threats on a constant basis, but they would be the ones who would have to move to an unfamiliar setting when things got bad enough. I was told this is due to the special needs students having certain rights, that other students did not have, because of their disabilities.
Getting the special needs student’s parents involved often didn’t help matters as they were generally respected by their child less than we were. I did see two students be moved to a specialist school during my time at the school, though. One was moved after sexually assaulting a female student and the other was after such an extreme level of disconnectedness had been reached that he/she was completely unmanageable. Both of these students had been disrupting classes for at least five years, with about 25 students per class the total number of students adversely affected by them is significant.
When it comes to special needs students, candy and other treats are often used as motivators and rewards for good behavior. I detested that practice and avoided it as much as possible. Yet, that same method permeated many of the classrooms in the school. Virtually every teacher had a basket or box stashed somewhere in their cabinets that housed assorted candies and chocolates. With the extreme prevalence of junk-food in our culture, even down to a dessert being served in the cafeteria nearly everyday, teachers handing out candy is a problem. It also sets the precedence that hard work is not it’s own reward, but that hard work is only worth undertaking when it results in a treat or special privilege.
One of the most concerning things I observed during my time working at this public school was the focus placed upon standardized test performance. Teachers were constantly thinking about the next barrage of tests that would be coming their way. Subjects and concepts would be taught at a pace that meant if you didn’t understand them before the next test, you were up a creek without a paddle. Then after that test the next one would be on the horizon. This meant that if a student fell behind because they struggled with a specific concept or subject, they were likely to stay behind for the foreseeable future. I understand that many students must be considered and that due to the teacher/student ratio not every student can get the help they need. It is my personal belief that instead of raising teacher salaries further and further every few years, the school districts should be hiring more teachers with that same money. However, not all of the blame can be placed on the schools, as many parents are not as involved in their child’s education as they should be. If more parents were involved, then the school and district might be held more accountable for their choices.
The last observation I will mention is in regard to reading. We can all agree that reading is a very important skill to learn. Likewise, we can probably all agree that not everyone learns to read at the same pace or has the same reading interests. Considering this, I was surprised to see the reading of magazines and comics go unsupported by many of the teachers. These teachers would instead try to foist novels and chapter books on all their students who preferred magazines or comics. Now, I understand the importance of reading novels and chapter books once a you have a sufficient enough reader on your hands. However, when students are learning to read and comprehend, how interested they are in the material can make a big difference. It is also well-known that boys are typically more interested in magazines and comics during the elementary years than they are in novels and chapter books. In my eyes, these teachers didn’t promote a general interest in reading, but rather an interest in reading what they thought you should be reading. Instead of allowing varying interests to develop over time, they tried to force a specific interest. This can result in a student becoming disinterested in reading in general.
My above observations are not indicative of all public schools, nor are they necessarily accurate to how the school I worked at functions today. I wrote this post to hopefully shine a light on what might be transpiring in other public schools. My interest is in seeing parents become more involved in the public school system and affecting a greater level of accountability. After all, these schools are serving the parents, not the government. A parent knows what is best for their child, not the school system and not the government. Therefore the parent’s interests are what should be considered the most.